August 25th, 2011
When the recent surprise earthquake jolted Mineral, Virginia – the shock waves rolled out in all directions. While most of the coverage centered on Washington, DC and New York City, the tremor was also felt in Columbus, Ohio – 444 miles from the epicenter.
WCMH – the Media General NBC affiliate in Ohio’s capital city – quickly jumped on the story when phone calls started rolling into the newsroom. Within a minute of the earthquake WCMH’s email inbox was filled with people asking what happened. Before they even put the breaking news story on their traditional TV platform – reporter Tom Brockman created a Twitter hash tag – #Columbusquake, and other news staffers started engaging in conversations with their 33,000 Facebook fans. Of course, other people in the WCMH newsroom were also answering phone calls and emails from people wanting to relate their earthquake experience.
Denise Yost, WCMH Multimedia Content Manager, says once the hash tag went up – the Twitter traffic immediately took off. She says on the day of the earthquake WCMH’s Twitter traffic tripled. The Tweets flowed in – not just from Ohio – but from all over the country as the Twitter users shared their experiences with each other and the TV station. They also received hundreds of comments on the station’s Facebook page.
WCMH Director of Digital Content Ike Walker says, “When you have a big event like this email and the phone are still very important, but the best way to immediately react with your customers is to go to social media and establish a beachhead with a hash tag.” “It is important,” Walker notes, “to establish a beachhead to own the story.”
Of course, the bread and butter of WCMH’s multi-platform news strategy is their own website. So, even as news staffers were heavily engaged with customers on social media sites – WCMH created a special story about the earthquake on NBC4i.com. They also constructed a Google map with pinpoints to show how widespread the reports were. In addition, there were constant updates on the Continuous News section of the station’s website.
The earthquake story generated over 30,000 page views, compared to the second most viewed story of the day – a missing woman – that garnered 4,500 page views. Overall WCMH’s web site traffic was over 170,000 for the day – an increase of 40,000 over a normal Tuesday. The special earthquake map had 1,072 page views – an unusually high number.
Here are some important takeaways from the earthquake story coverage from WCMH’s Walker. “When a big story hits,” he says “you want to dominate the conversation immediately on social media and quickly establish a special hash tag on Twitter.” It is also important that the entire news staff instantly become part of that conversation on your station website, Twitter and Facebook. You truly have to fan out your resources onto multiple platforms.
Walker also points out, “Don’t shy away from using the free tools out there – like google maps – to organize all the info coming in and build a strata of information to dominate the conversation.”
The WCMH experience is an excellent reminder that when something happens to a community of people these days – they want to share those experiences right away – and your news staff must quickly become part of that conversation on multiple platforms to serve your customers and dominate the most important conversation of that day.
August 7th, 2011
Just like you – I have been a bit grumpy lately. I’m tired of the incessant heat, tired of politicians making fools of themselves, tired of the economy, and tired of working so hard all the time! But then I spent a 2-hour flight from Dallas to Colorado Springs with a 28-year-old Army Sergeant who hunts Improvised Explosive Devices (IED’s) as a career. This man puts his life on the line for his country every day. I guess a bad day at the office isn’t such a big deal anymore.
I was shocked to find out that there are Army units dedicated to finding the IED’s on a daily basis. I thought all soldiers just tried to dodge these deadly fertilizer-filled bombs. Nope – these guys lead the way down roads and through farm fields in Iraq and Afghanistan hunting for the IED’s to make the path safe for troops and other vehicles following behind them.
My flight companion has been deployed once each to Afghanistan and Iraq – and will be heading out again for a year’s stay in Afghanistan this fall. He’s looking forward to it – bored at being state-side. But the Army Sergeant – a college grad with a degree in Business Administration – has a deeper force driving him back to the war zone. He wants to help his fellow soldiers avoid the deadly killing devices. He says helping his country and his buddies is what led him to join the Army six years ago – right after college graduation.
The Sergeant told me when he was last in Afghanistan his unit (he commands a dozen men) – was sniffing out IED’s to clear the path so a Canadian Army force could move down the road to a new location. Three times – in less than 400 meters – their vehicles were were rocked by IED’s. Rear axles, tires, pieces of the vehicle were blown 800 yards away by the explosions. Thankfully the heavy armor under the vehicles – and surrounding the soldiers – kept them safe. Each time – they abandoned the blasted vehicle – and climbed into a new one. So the Sergeant – and his unit – were all bombarded by IED’s three times in less than 400 yards!
He told me that the rebels building the IED’s are getting more crafty every day. For instance, the last one that exploded had a trip lever built into the highway. It was set to go off the fifth time something – or someone – rolled over it. Apparently the fourth time was when the front wheels crossed the trigger – setting it off when the rear wheels passed over – blowing the rear axle hundreds of yards away. It was at that point that the Canadian Army commander called a halt to the operation. The three explosions had occurred in less than half the distance they were trying to cover.
I asked him why we were in Afghanistan. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “I really don’t know – they keep saying it is because of the oil – but I have been all over Afghanistan, from one border to another and never seen an oil well. Now, when I was in Iraq they were everywhere.” And, much like the rest of us, he complained that the mucky-mucks in the Army never listen to the soldiers in the field when they come up with new weapons and armored vehicles. “I wish,” he said, “they’d listen to us in the field, we have experienced the situation.”
I had one final question for the Sergeant – I said – “I understand wanting to help others, but what else drives you to risk your life like this?” He didn’t even hesitate before saying, “I like the excitement and the rush of doing these missions, and the pay is very good too.” He went on, “I’m single so there is no one waiting for me back home, no kids, no worried wife, so its good for me to be the one to do it.”
And the pay differential? The Army Sergeant said, “I get an extra $400 a month for being in harm’s way, and another $325 a month for putting my life in danger.” And he added, “It’s tax free.” I have to tell you my jaw dropped. This brave American is one step away from death every day for less than $800 a month!
So – the next time you’re on the verge of complaining about a bad assignment, a bad boss, the heat, the economy or whatever – ask yourself this question – “Would I put my life on the line for $725 a month?” I know my answer – and I can pretty well guess your answer too.
So quit complaining over the minor stuff – and say a prayer for the truly brave men and women who serve over there, so we’re free to drive our cars and to get stuck in rush hour traffic – without any fear of running over an IED and getting blown off the face of the earth.